Caltrans Seeks Penalties Against Bay Bridge Contractor, Designer

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The suspension tower for the Bay Bridge's new eastern span.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Caltrans is ending its relationship with the main contractor of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge's new eastern span and will seek damages because of project delays and shoddy workmanship that plagued the $6.4 billion project.

The joint venture American Bridge/Fluor built many parts of the bridge, including a system of seismic stabilization rods that failed after installation on the bridge's east pier.

The Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee unanimously approved the contract's conclusion Thursday, as well as a pair of motions that will allow Caltrans to seek damages against the builder and a joint-venture design firm.

"This is a bittersweet day," committee chair Steve Heminger said. "We are acknowledging folks made mistakes and folks need to pay for those mistakes."

Caltrans is seeking an $8 million credit from ABF, and filing an $8 million claim against joint-venture design firm T.Y. Lin International and Moffatt & Nichol. That's two-thirds of a $24 million failure of anchoring rods on the bridge's east pier. A committee investigation in 2013 found Caltrans was responsible for one-third of the failure.

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The agency is also withholding from ABF $1.5 million for delays in construction of the eastern span and $3 million to cover repairs of incorrectly installed anchor rod grout that appears to have allowed water to contact the bridge fasteners, potentially leading to corrosion. Caltrans is also looking to assess $2.7 million in damages against the builder for delays in completing the contract.

But the committee also approved a payment to the builder of up to $4.2 million for a change order that opened the new span early.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, an East Bay Democrat, says Caltrans should take responsibility for poorly managing the bridge's construction. As a former state senator, he chaired the Transportation and Housing Committee, where he called for an investigation. He says a joint Caltrans partnership with other transportation agencies also should have been overseeing the project.

"First step is it’s good they’re holding the contractor accountable, consistent with the performance standards in that contract," DeSaulnier said. "But I think the general public also should be very circumspect about holding them accountable as well.”

The committee also reserved the right to pursue additional claims against another joint-venture design firm, pending the results of an investigation into failed tower foundation rods that is currently underway.

Caltrans inspections found last fall more than 400 massive, high-strength steel rods anchoring the tower of the new eastern span were exposed to standing water for several years. A panel of experts determined the source of the water was poor grouting.

The 26-foot-long rods were designed to keep the tower from "rotating," or tipping over, during a major earthquake. But engineering analysis indicated the "rods are not critical to the bridge's performance and are a redundant system," according to Caltrans.

The agency reported last May that 99 percent of the rods were still intact after subjecting them to several weeks of "pull test."